June 11, 1944
The invasion of Normandy was only 5 days old. Hitler had not yet been convinced that this was the main Allied thrust. He thought it was a faint to draw his Wehrmacht away from the Pas De Calais area. General Eisenhower, as overall Commander, directed the Air Force to block every avenue of supply (and later retreat) available to the enemy. The 8th was out in full strength with tactical bombing support. Our targets were bridges, road junctions, rail transport, viaducts, and airfields. The targets selected for the 44th Bomb Group were a bridge at Montfort and a viaduct at La Passonniere. My crew and myself were part of an 18 Liberator section sent to Montfort. Montfort is a small French town 28 miles southeast of Le Havre, 22 miles southwest of Rouen and 82 miles down river from Paris. A bridge at Montfort spans the River Risle, a tributary joining the Seine near Le Havre. This bridge was on target for today.
Take off was early at 0500 hours. As we penetrated enemy air space, the Luftwaffe decided it was time to fight back. Four ME 190's made a diving attack and later 12 FW 190's struck us. Our gunners were too much for them as we lost no planes due to these attacks. The enemy aircraft were up against great odds besides our defensive .50 caliber machine guns. Of 1055 B-17's and B-24's launched for this tactical offensive, 606 were effective over the 20 different selected targets. We were protected by 914 of our own fighters which swamped anything the Germans could throw at us.
Our bombardiers dropped as best they could through an overcast. As a result, we never saw our bombs hit so we really do not know how effective they were. There was little flak. Being so close to the Channel, we were soon out over the water again and on the way back to base. Landing was at 1100 hours having been in the air an even 6 hours.
About this time, the ball turrets were being removed from our Liberators. This did two things, one being the reduction in weight so we could gain higher altitude as a defense against the stiffer flak barrages being built around every major target in Europe and secondly to improve the stability of the B-24's in tight formation flying. We hated to loose our ball turret gunner, "Swoose" Alexander. He was the "character" of our crew and a fun person to know. Swoose was assigned to another crew and soon completed the required 30 missions. What happened to Alexander, I do not know as he volunteered for a "second tour". All I know is that he had a job with our crew that I could not have made myself do. His job was to curl-up inside the ball turret, then the doors were shut and the waist gunners cranked him down below the belly of our plane. He could not get out unless someone cranked him back up. A threat of being court martialed and a stick of dynamite could not have forced me into what my minds eye perceived as a "Death Trap". As strange as it may seem, records after the war showed that ball turret gunners suffered fewer losses than at any other position of the plane. Maybe it was because he was best protected from flak but even if I had known it then, no one could have made me get into that contraption.
But then again, the shoe can fit on the other foot. One day when all of us were horsing around the barracks area, Swoose spoke up and said "Mac, how did you get to be an officer?" (All my life I've been known as John as I still am today but all the time I flew with this crew, I was "Mac" to them,). My answer to Swoose was, "Will you navigate our bomber tomorrow?" You should have seen the change of expression on his face. The very thought of the training and responsibility I had was too much for him. That settled the debate once and for all. I never heard the question raised again.
A man in combat feels as if he is the very center of the war. Everything is peripheral to the fact that the very success of the whole conflict is in his hands and victory depends on what he does. We lived in our own little world. I was only vaguely aware of what was happening in our other squadrons, much less other groups unless it was a disaster such as the 492nd Bomb Group suffered. Through reading "Stars and Stripes" newspapers I knew what was happening on our own battle front. I knew nothing about the other theaters of operation.
I'll never forget one evening of being at the combat officers club sitting around shooting the bull. When ever airmen got together, their hands are always making a zooming motion through the air as they talked about the air battles. This particular night the conversation got off on a different subject. Of all things you'll never believe but it was the fear of surviving all we were going through now only to go home and be killed in an auto accident. You can laugh at this if you wish but at the time it was a serious thought to us.
The following day after this 19th mission, the Germans launched the first of their V-1 flying bombs against London from the very Noball sites the 8th Air Force had attempted to wipe out since December 1943. Hitler called these his "Vengeance Weapons" (the German word being "Vergeltungswaffen"). During the summer until the launching sites were overrun by our ground forces, the Fuhrer sent 2000 V-1's to England killing some 600 Londoners and wounding another 40,000.